A civic activist running for mayor in South Fulton said he and his husband are being targeted for being gay in an attack ad circulated to voters.
The ad – initially texted, then emailed and later printed and distributed at an elementary school – shows Rafer Johnson embracing his husband Kelly above the phrase "Husband and Husband" and welcoming people to the new city. The ad was first reported by Georgia Voice.
“If you look at the ad, it’s a subliminal [message], ‘husband and husband,’” Johnson told the media outlet. “It says, ‘Husband and husband, welcome to our city.’ That’s the subliminal message of the ‘gay agenda,’ of ‘we’re turning this city gay.’”
The ad is a twist on one that Rafer and Kelly Johnson created in 2014 to support Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves during his re-election bid. That ad includes the same photo of the couple, along with the text, "We are voting for Eaves, because he votes for us!"
Johnson said he hasn't been able to determine who created and distributed the attack ad. But Robert Dawson, a friend of Johnson also running for mayor, told the Georgia Voice that the ad is "ignorant" and ineffective.
“Gimmicks aren’t going to work. Slogans aren’t going to work. Smears aren’t going to work. Negative attacks aren’t going to work,” Dawson told the media outlet. “This type of ignorance is not going to work.”
Johnson, a Delta flight attendant, announced his campaign for mayor in November. Last month, he was endorsed by the Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports LGBT candidates. The group also backed Johnson during his unsuccessful run in 2016 for the Georgia House.
The campaign flap comes as Johnson was endorsed by Eaves, who said Johnson brings the "integrity, foresight, strength and collaboration skills" that the first mayor of the city will need.
"The new City of South Fulton is an incredible, important entity within Fulton County," Eaves said in a video on Tuesday. "We need someone like Rafer who will be leading at the helm in terms of integrity, in terms of foresight, in terms of strength, but just as importantly, in terms of a collegial, collaborative style."
"I've known this man for over 10 to 12 years. He is of all those qualities and more. That type of leadership is needed for this new city," Eaves added.
Johnson is among nine candidates for mayor. Others include financial counselor Robert Bonner, Jr., insurance professional Bennie Crane, consultant Robert Dawson, former Fulton County Commissioner Bill Edwards, retiree Ronnie Few, labor consultant Gwendolyn Gillespie, attorney Travis Townsend and underwriter Ken Wainwright.
The election is March 21. The government of the new city, which will include nearly 100,000 people, takes office May 1.